Many of us joined together on the last Saturday in February to pay tribute to an amazing man, Rich Kunde. But all of us at the Celebration of Life knew that you couldn’t speak Rich’s name without referencing Saralee. Like so many famous duos in history, their names will forever be linked, as if one didn’t exist without the other, and in so many ways that is true. Even the beautifully decorated building at the fairgrounds we were housed in that day credited their union.
I was one of the fortunate ones. I got to see the fairytale story play from the start of the film to the credits. Saralee had a sort of cult following, and I became part of her posse even before my teen years. As we all know, Saralee and my brother Tim were friends from their early adult years and getting to know and love my brother’s best friend was easy. Saralee was magical.
In the early days, Saralee worked at the Sonoma-Marin Fair and eventually at the Sonoma County Fair as the Exhibits Supervisor. She also had a nomadic work spirit and would help at fairs, bull sales, and antique actions all over the state. It got to be that I was her second chair and would clamber at the chance to jump in the car with her to go on another adventure. There were many, all usually starting with us being late to wherever we were supposed to report to and ending with additions to Saralee’s cult – nobody didn’t like Saralee.
I could write a book about the escapades I had with my dear Saralee, but this reflection isn’t about the woman, its about the couple. Enter stage right, Richard Kunde.
I got to know Richard about the same time Saralee did because he was appointed as a member on the Harvest Fair at the same time I was going to college and working at the Sonoma County Fair under Saralee’s direction. It was easy to see that Richard was immediately twitter-pated by the lovely woman who would eventually become the love of his life. Richard quickly made our workplace Cupid’s workshop. Enormous bouquets of flowers arrived weekly, gifts would appear out of nowhere on Saralee’s desk, and delicious treats would be bestowed on all that worked with Saralee. Saralee would act like all these courtship gestures were born from friendship, but we bystanders could see the budding romance grow into a lifetime union.
The presenters at Rich’s Celebration of Life each uniquely profiled the man Richard Kunde and his union with Saralee. But they shared their union with all of us. When Saralee, the Petaluma-based dairy girl married Rich, the Kenwood-based wine grape grower, southern county was joined to northern county, the dairy industry was linked to the wine industry, and philanthropists mixed with those in need.
Jim Pratt, Richard’s best friend and the MC at the celebration, ended the afternoon’s program with the following comments: “With the passing of both Rich and Saralee, it does feel like the end of a remarkable era in Sonoma County, one that will become even more evident when the history of their time is written. And while this may seem like Rich’s last party, let’s keep the party going by continuing to bring everyone together to preserve Sonoma County’s rich agriculture heritage for the generations to come. It’s what Rich and Saralee would have us do.”
All the thoughts spoken that day resonated with the audience, but those final works spoken by Jim will forever be paraphrased within me. For all of us who were swept into the whirlwind of Richard and Saralee, we have our marching orders, our manifesto, our mantra. We need to continue what this duo started and perfected; preserving and sustaining our agriculture heritage through education, collaboration, and perseverance. And like the Kunde’s, we must do it with civility, kindness, and grace.
Toward the end of the celebration, a mixed group of Saralee’s posse were standing together reminiscing about this amazing couple. We all had varied backgrounds and interests, but we shared a common love for Rich and Saralee. After an afternoon of partaking in lovely Sonoma County wine, we raised our glasses and vowed to continue the good work that was the passion of the dairy girl and rootstock czar. Although it was not spoken, I am sure our inner voices knew it would take all of those in that room to keep the momentum going that had seemed second nature to our departed friends.
“Let’s keep the party going”. A simple phrase on paper, but an unsurmountable creed to follow in context with all that Saralee and Richard did for agriculture, for others, for all of us. With their passing, Richard and Saralee have challenged us to keep Sonoma County agriculture thriving, diverse and kind. How are you going to keep the party going? What would Saralee (and Richard) do?